How to Prep Your Furnace for Winter

The basic functions of your heating system dictate the best approach for pre-season inspections. Heaters have three basic aspects that determine their efficiency: the ventilation system, electrical settings and blower mechanics. All three play key roles in delivering warm air during the cold months. Heating specialists conduct tune-ups and inspections for a nominal fee, but the main culprits of heat loss and inefficiency are often easy to find yourself. Spend some time with your furnace before the winter season, and catch an expensive flaw before it’s too late. Taking the time to prep your furnace helps ensure that you stay warm all season long.

Ventilation System


Your heater’s ventilation system consists of the ducts, air registers and filters. Start with the largest component of your heating system: the ducts. The ducts run throughout your home, and they are responsible for delivering the heated air in an efficient manner. Visually inspect the ducts, and look for obvious gaps, deteriorating tape and blockages.

Despite its stellar reputation as a fix-all, duct tape is not the best medium for sealing duct joints. Over time, it becomes brittle under the changing temperature and moisture conditions of an expansive ventilation network. Instead of duct tape, it would be wise to seal the joints with metal-backed duct sealers. Additionally, you can also keep the connections tight with metal screws where needed.

Unheated areas, such as basements and attics, place added demands on your ventilation system. Keep the connections as straight as possible in these areas. Add insulation or insulating blankets in drafty areas. Major joints in these areas need at least three metal screws securing the ducts. Dampers that direct and deflect airflow must move freely. Replace rusty ducts right away, and look for unusual moisture from nearby pipes or drains.

Air filters are inexpensive, yet often forgotten factors in heating and air conditioning systems. Dirty filters are easy to replace. Sophisticated filters with allergen and odor traps restrict the airflow more than basic filters, but keep your furnace and your air free of small duct particles and contaminants. All types of air filters require timely maintenance. Insert the filter with the arrow going toward the furnace. Improperly placed and old, dirty filters make your system work harder and reduce its overall efficiency.

Electrical Settings

The thermostat is the brain behind your heating system. Upgrade old, inefficient thermostats with a new-generation smart control system. Smart thermostats allow you to program custom settings that you set and forget. Few consumers have the time to turn their heating system down each night or during scheduled absences. With a smart thermostat, you can set the temperature based on your schedule, adjust the temperature via a smartphone or tablet and save money on your heating bill.

Even a gas-fired furnace has electrical components. An electrical current delivers the message to your burners or heating elements on a regular basis. A simple inspection with a partner ensures that this basic message is working properly. Have a helper turn the thermostat up to trigger demand to your furnace. Watch the burners or heating elements of your system and listen for start-up. Gas burners ignite, and electrical systems have glowing coils. If you have any hesitations on inspecting this area of your furnace, then you should avoid doing so and call a professional.

Blower Motor

A heater’s blower motor is a key player in the air delivery system. A properly functioning blower motor delivers heated air throughout your home. This mechanical component requires a clean workspace. Start with a visual inspection of your furnace room or area. Look for red flags, such as rust or standing water. Keep dust and debris clear of your furnace, especially the blower motor. Small objects and dirt compromise the motor and fans in your system. Heaters are useless without the blowers that deliver the air. Keep your motor running by keeping your furnace room and case clean.

Check the power of your blower motor by conducting a manual inspection of the air delivery at the registers. A properly sized motor delivers adequate airflow at all the registers as long as you properly seal the ducts and the dampers are functioning properly. Auxiliary motors supplement large systems and require a bit more effort to inspect; they lie in the major junctions of your duct work. Check the schematics of your systems to locate the blower motors. Leave wiring problems and motor malfunctions to the experts, but the general health of your blower motor is easy to determine.

Winter Heat

A squeaky wheel does indeed require attention. Blower motors require well-lubricated parts. It is best to leave the assembly of your blower motor and lubrication of major parts to the professionals, but obstructions and sticky components are easy to spot. Listen to your blower motor as it starts. Take note of any squeaks or stalls upon start-up. A loud blower motor requires professional attention.

6 Simple Things You Can Do Right Now

Now that you have a better understanding of how your furnace works, let’s take a closer look at a few simple, quick and easy things you can do to ensure that your furnace is ready for the cold months ahead.

  1. Change Air Filter

    Changing out your air filter is something you should do often, not just before the winter months. But, it’s a good idea to change it out before kicking your furnace on. This will help ensure that it does not have to work harder to provide the same level of heat, making it more efficient and saving you more money.

  2. Close Blower Door

    We already discussed above why you should check your blower, but you’d be surprised how many people inspect it and then don’t latch the door properly. This can lead to damage to the unit. So, we’d like to take a moment to remind you to make sure the blower door is put back on properly.

  3. Visibly Inspect All Vents In Your Home

    Walk around the house and make sure all of the vents are clean and clear. If there are any sort of obstructions in the vents, that area will not receive the proper amount of heat it should.

  4. Remove Fire Hazards & Combustible Items

    It’s not unusual for a homeowner to store boxes, clothes and other stuff in the same area as the furnace. Before you kick your furnace on for the season, it would be wise to make sure that all of these items are moved away from the unit. If you are storing anything combustible, such as gas or aerosol products, it would be wise to relocate those items to a completely different area of the house.

  5. Vacuum Dust & Debris

    When you are inspecting your furnace, be sure to vacuum all of the dust and debris from inside the unit, as well as around it. Cleaning it at the start of the season is not only a smart thing to do to keep it working properly, it’s also an easy way to save money as this is a common service that an HVAC professional will charge you for.

  6. Buy A Carbon Monoxide Detector

    This is not a necessity, but we would definitely recommend it. Carbon monoxide detectors are relatively cheap to buy, and even easier to install. It’s a wise thing to have around your home, just as you have smoke detectors. Experts recommend NOT placing it within 15 ft. of your furnace, however, as it may trigger a false alarm.

When in Doubt, Call a Professional

Furnace Repair

If you have any doubts about inspecting your furnace or making any of the repairs mentioned above, then it would be wise to stop immediately and call an HVAC professional. It’ll cost a little bit of money to have them come out, but that’s still better than you breaking something and then have to pay more for repairs.

If all else fails, you can always buy a portable space heater or a decorative electric fireplace to help you stay warm and cozy, without paying to heat up the entire house. Or make costly repairs to your furnace.

Heaters require the cooperation of many components to work properly. It is wise to conduct regular inspections of the most important parts of your furnace to keep your electrical bills down during the winter months. Consult with a heating professional for a more thorough inspection every other year. Armed with basic knowledge about your heating system, you can help spot the main causes of heat loss and inefficiency before they become an even bigger problem.

Jeff Flowers

About Author

Jeff Flowers has been a self-described beer geek for over a decade now. When he's not chasing his daughter around, you can usually find him drinking a fresh brew and wasting too much of his time on both Google+ & Twitter.

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